Fresh-faced coach ready to breathe new life into Pacers

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The Indiana Pacers have crossed the 2010-11 season’s midway mark, and the team’s results aren’t good. And I’m not just talking about the Pacers’ win-loss record, which is 10 games below .500.

From a business standpoint, the season also is turning out to be a loser. Through 22 home games, the Pacers are 28th in the 30-team National Basketball Association in attendance. The Pacers are averaging 13,825 fans per home game, ahead of only Sacramento and New Jersey.

According to Pacers executives, the team lost $30 million in each of the last two seasons. With the exception of $10 million the team got from the city this year, there’s little indication that this season will be any better than last year. It appears Pacers owner Herb Simon is likely to lose another $20 million or so this season.

In 2009, Pacers executives said the team’s ticket revenue was more than $400,000 per game below league average, and it’s difficult to imagine that has changed much.

So it’s no surprise Simon urged Larry Bird, director of Pacers basketball operations, to fire four-year head coach Jim O’Brien, whose teams here never came anywhere near posting a winning record.

There’s now at least some hope that new coach, Frank Vogel, can do what O’Brien could not. Namely, energize Pacers players, and in turn fire-up Pacers fans.

Not much is known about Vogel other than that he has been a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Wizards, and also served as an assistant coach for O'Brien in Philadelphia and Boston. Taking the reigns of the Pacers is a huge step up for a man better known for reviewing film than directing a team from the sidelines. But Vogel looked like a man with a positive outlook, energy and something to prove at Sunday’s press conference. It was a marked contrast from what Pacers fans have seen recently from O’Brien.

And there’s this: Vogel is young. At 37, almost everyone who has crossed his path in the NBA says he has a bright future. As intangibles go, he looks like he stepped out of a scene from the movie Hoosiers. He seems like just the type of guy who could capture this market’s imagination—if only he can string some victories together.

Vogel is a graduate of the University of Kentucky with a degree in biology and became the Wildcats video coordinator after graduation. He attended Juniata College in Huntington, Pa., where he was a three-year starter for the Division III Eagles. He then transferred to Kentucky, became a student manager and played on the practice squad in 1996.

Pacers brass have to hope Vogel can do for the Pacers what Jason Garrett did for the Dallas Cowboys this NFL season. Garrett took over for Wade Phillips mid-season and put some juice back into an otherwise downtrodden franchise. Garrett last month was hired to be the Cowboys full-time head coach earlier this month.

Only time will tell if Vogel can achieve that kind of success, but the Pacers new coach has plenty of achievements within his grasp.

In Garrett’s case, there was almost no chance he could get the Cowboys into the playoffs. Even with the Pacers’ recent losing streak, a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference is still well within the team’s reach.

With the agreement between players and team owners set to expire after this season, and Bird suddenly waffling about his future, it’s too early to look ahead to next season.

Right now, all Simon’s hopes rest on a little-known coach who is stepping into the NBA spotlight for the very first time.

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